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You don't know that: lying to yourself

We're naive and gullible when it comes to believing ourselves

Yes, I'm talking about you. You might agree that others are often naive and gullible about believing the things they believe, but not you, right?!

Well, let's check that out. Consider the following examples and ask yourself if they bring to mind similar instances of what you think you know that you might not know.

"I checked out three different stores to find what I'm looking for. I don't think anyone has it." 

It possible that no one has it or it's also possible that store #4 will have it.

"I'll never be good at math."

You can only be certain about that if you ensure that you never take any more actions to get better at math. Otherwise, if you continue to study math you may either get good at it or not get so good at it.

"I know my wife will never cheat on me."

Many an intelligent man has believed his wife would never cheat on him and she did (and many never found out about it). You cannot be absolutely certain about something like this, unless you ensure she always wears a chastity belt...and even those are not lock proof.

"I'm upset that my friend hasn't arrived on time."

It seems you believed that your friend would arrive on time. That could have happened. But we all know that people are often or sometimes late. So, to believe that she or he would arrive on time was not something you knew for sure. Consequently, because you naively believed yourself in thinking they would arrive on time, you got upset when it turned out not to be true.

"I don't have enough money."

What is "enough"? Do you have enough so that you're not starving? Then maybe that's enough. Do you have enough to pay your current minimum outgo (to maintain all the things you've gotten used to and take for granted)? Is that enough? 

"John is always criticizing me."

Really? Are there any instances or times when John has not criticized you? Highly unlikely.

"Everything has gone wrong today."

Not by a long shot. For every one thing that "went wrong" I can list 99 things that went right for you.

"I'm not good enough."

Good enough for what? How would you know if you were "good enough"? What evidence do you have that you're not "good enough"? Do you think some others are "good enough"? Or "not good enough"? How do you know the difference?

Why do we believe things that can so easily be shown not to be true?

Several cognitive biases contribute to our tendency to err in this direction, but one factor is more forceful than all the others: believing something is absolutely true reduces the sense of risk and allows us a feeling predictive control that we would not otherwise have. We can cash in on this benefit regardless of whether the belief is "positive" or "negative."

"I know that Jan will come to my party so I am happy to invite her."

This confidence that Jan will say "yes" and come to your party removes any sense of risk or fear in inviting Jan to you party. It also allows you to count your chickens before they hatch, which can feel good (until she says  "no," if she does).

"I know that Jan will not come to my party so I'm not going to invite her."

This confidence that Jan will say "no" if you invited her removes any sense of risk or fear that you would anticipate if you did decide to invite her anyway. You get to avoid any fear of wasted effort or rejection.

How does this principle apply with the common belief "I'm not good enough."


Over 90% of people on earth believe either this or one of its siblings, like "I'm not smart enough."

This belief makes us feel safer by beating others to the punch. It's like we're saying to others either known or unknown, "Look, I already know that I should be better and I'm trying, so please go easy on me."

Validating that avoiding fear is the benefit of the false belief, "I'm not good enough" 

You can test the validity of this benefit by stepping into a fantasy world:


Imagine that everyone you know and have known, as well as all the other people in the world somehow know everything about you, including your entire inner world of thoughts and feelings. Everyone, absolutely everyone, is in total awe of you. They cannot imagine how anyone on the face of the earth could be more magnificent than you. They cannot imagine how anyone could have done more than you have done and are doing, especially including themselves.

Immersing yourself totally into this fantasy world, would you be the only holdout in all of humanity by believing you're not good enough? Of course not. That belief would not even occur to you.

Of course, that's not the world. Some others may criticize you. Some others may be disappointed in you. So, to feel safer, you do it to yourself first by indulging in the false belief, "I'm not good enough."

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